Elevating the Life State of Humanity

The power of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth is the essential power we human beings possess to break through all differences.

Seeking minds—SGI members from North America and Oceania join SGI Study Department Leader Masaaki Morinaka in a four-day study conference, deepening their resolve as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, Aug. 26–29, Weston, Fla. Photo: Mary D'Ella.

“At the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.”
—Shakyamuni Buddha, from The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 70

WESTON, Fla., Aug. 26–29—Core to the Lotus Sutra is the drama of the disciples transforming themselves— from those who seek to be saved by the Buddha to those who strive to save others alongside the Buddha.

But what does it mean to “save” someone? Nichiren Buddhism empowers people to “save themselves” by bringing forth their enlightened potential through the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, while teaching others to do the same. There is no reliance on an outside power or deity for forgiveness or salvation. True salvation means undergoing a magnificent inner transformation and demonstrating the positive power of that transformation through our words and actions in the real world.

SGI Study Department Leader Masaaki Morinaka. Photo: Mary D'Ella.
SGI Study Department Leader Masaaki Morinaka. Photo: Mary D’Ella.

“We encourage one another so that we can all become stronger,” said SGI Study Department Leader Masaaki Morinaka. “So instead of asking someone, ‘Have you been saved?’ we might ask: ‘Have you saved anyone lately?’ ‘Have you helped anyone become truly happy?’ ”

The mission of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth and the shared vow of mentor and disciple to actualize kosen-rufu served as consistent themes throughout the North America and Oceania Study Conference, held Aug. 26–29 at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida. Some 200 SGI members from Canada, New Zealand, Palau and the United States attended the conference, led by Mr. Morinaka.

In a message to the conference (see Study the Great Philosophy of the Dignity of Life), SGI President Ikeda called the biannual study conference begun in 2005 “a tradition that is illuminating the new era of worldwide kosen-rufu.”

“It is the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who, in the most difficult of times, in the direst of circumstances, emerge dancing, shining with the light of the greatest courage, compassion and wisdom,” President Ikeda continued. “Burning with such pride, please continue to chant resounding daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] for your own happiness and that of others, no matter what may happen, without lament, confusion or fear, and build and expand from where you stand a palace of harmony, trust and hope.”

The SGI’s Buddhism for the people takes flight as a world religion.

The first two sessions delved into key points from President Ikeda’s seminal six-volume dialogue series, The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, viewed from the standpoint of the SGI’s Buddhism for the people taking flight as a world religion.

Mr. Morinaka said that if he were to distill the 28 chapters of the Lotus Sutra into a few words, they would be this: All people are Buddhas, and the highest form of Buddhist practice is helping all people become Buddhas.

One significant theme discussed in the series derives from “The Life Span of Thus Come One,” the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which overturns the notion that the Buddha first attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, but rather did so in the extremely remote past.

Mr. Morinaka said this had been his burning question since he was a student division member: Why is the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment in the remote past extraordinary?

In other Buddhist schools, this sort of Buddha is deified as a transcendent being far removed from human beings.

Mr. Morinaka said he was surprised to read President Ikeda’s viewpoint in the dialogue series that the Buddha attaining enlightenment in the remote past represents Shakyamuni returning to his original state as a human being:

The eternal Buddha of the “Life Span” chapter means all living beings. We are all “eternal Buddhas.” Ordinary people are Buddhas just as they are.

There are no grades or distinctions among people. We are all equal; we are all equally Buddhas. The only difference among people has to do with whether, or the extent to which, we realize this in our hearts. From the standpoint of Buddhism, that is the only meaningful distinction. (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4, p. 186)

Mr. Morinaka said that this revolutionary view of the Buddha is core to the humanistic ideals of Nichiren Buddhism. “By understanding Shakyamuni, who attained Buddhahood in the remote past, as a human being worthy of the utmost respect—it cleared the way for all people to awaken to this supreme life state,” he said. “The ‘Life Span’ chapter is Shakya- muni sharing his ultimate experience concerning his own enlightenment and intent.”

To be sure, the noble process of human revolution—an inner-directed transformation actualized through Buddhist practice—is the conclusion of the “Life Span” chapter, he said.

Through human revolution, SGI members develop a life state brimming with the same compassion as the Buddha. “Before taking faith, we perhaps didn’t have enough life force to concern ourselves with others,” he said. “But now, when we see someone having a hard time, we can’t leave them alone. In short, we become persistent people in making the suffering of others our own.

“The day humanity becomes persistent in this way, the world will change. An insistent bunch who are full of love for humanity—this is the SGI.”

Who are the true protagonists of the Lotus Sutra?

Another significant theme drawn from the dialogue series is this question: Who are the true protagonists of the Latter Day of the Law? In other words, who will play the most important, leading role in bringing about peace in this age?

The Lotus Sutra’s essential teaching (latter half) begins with the appearance of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth in “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter. “In other words, the essential teaching begins when all the disciples arise,” he said.

President Ikeda elaborates:

Failing to comprehend the greatness of their own lives, people become attached to unimportant details. The power of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth is the essential power we human beings possess to break through all differences—ethnicity, race, gender or social standing—and lead people to happiness.

We are ordinary people, plain and unadorned. We are thoroughly human and infinitely courageous. This is the pride of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

The appearance of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth is an earthshaking event attesting to the great underlying power of life. We have to convey this to people throughout the world. The essential teaching transforms how people perceive the Buddha, which amounts to a fundamental transformation in how people perceive themselves. (WLS-3, 216)

It is in the latter half of the Lotus Sutra that the topic shifts to: Who are the true protagonists of the Lotus Sutra?

The central character changes from the single individual Shakyamuni—viewed, in this sense, as a compassionate liberator of suffering people—to numberless awakened individuals who are capable of bringing about change by engaging in the same compassionate practice as the Buddha. “This switching of the main actors is the culmination of the Lotus Sutra,” Mr. Morinaka said. “The Lotus Sutra is not complete until it reaches this point.”

The Lotus Sutra is the sutra of the oneness of mentor and disciple.

In his second lecture, Mr. Morinaka confirmed the Lotus Sutra as a sutra that expounds the shared struggle to awaken all living beings to their innate potential—the sutra of the oneness of mentor and disciple.

Buddhism, he said, places great importance on the fundamental Law that permeates life and the universe. It is through this Law that all Buddhas have been able to achieve enlightenment.

But the Lotus Sutra did not reveal the contents or description of that Law. Nichiren Daishonin clearly revealed that Law as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

“Anyone can become a Buddha—this is the teaching of the Lotus Sutra,” Mr. Morinaka said. “When you develop this way of thinking, you arrive at a religion that is based on the oneness mentor and disciple.”

In the Lotus Sutra, this vow is described in the Buddha’s declaration: “At the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” (LSOC, 70).

President Ikeda writes:

The Buddha vows to elevate all people to the same state of life as his own. This is the spirit to raise capable people, to enable people to develop to their fullest potential. This is also the spirit underlying the mentor–disciple relationship.

Of course, since we also strive to keep growing and developing ourselves, the determination to bring others not only to our level but above and beyond is the true spirit of the Buddha’s vow to “make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.” (WLS-1, 134)

“There’s no other religion that expounds this kind of principle,” Mr. Morinaka said. “During Shakyamuni’s time, he was waiting for the appearance of disciples who share his intent. That is why the Lotus Sutra is the sutra of the oneness of mentor and disciple.”

When disciples awaken to this vow, they transform from people who were just seeking to be protected by the mentor to those who carry out a struggle, and uphold a vow, they share with the mentor: to fight for the happiness of the people. “This is none other than the devoted action of enabling the person right in front of you to overcome suffering and become happy,” he said.

Humanity must awaken to its eternal bonds of harmony and friendship.

According to the events unfolding in the Lotus Sutra, who are the Buddha’s direct disciples? They are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who have been carrying out the shared struggle of mentor and disciple to advance kosen-rufu since the remote past. “The ultimate essence of faith lies in whether we understand that the bond of mentor and disciple is eternal,” Mr. Morinaka said.

He said this means to deeply sense that we are all comrades who have been fighting together for kosen-rufu in lifetime after lifetime.

“It is ridiculous for comrades in faith, who have been striving together harmoniously for lifetimes, to be in conflict in this lifetime,” he said. “Strictly speaking, if we are in conflict with each other, that means that we do not understand the eternity of life expounded in Buddhism.”

The Lotus Sutra holds that we are comrades who have been working together in harmony over the three existences of past, present and future, since time without beginning. “To take this further,” Mr. Morinaka said, “this means that at the deepest root level, if every member of humanity awakens to the fact that he or she is a Bodhisattva of the Earth, then also it becomes possible to awaken to the bonds of harmony and friendship they have shared since the remote past. I think this is the only way to transform the destiny of humankind.”

Therefore, in Nichiren Buddhism, the purpose of our Buddhist practice is not to become a Buddha some day. Rather, true Buddhist practice consists of continuously fighting for kosen-rufu while manifesting the life state of a Buddha through chanting with faith in the Gohonzon. Such actions in themselves are the behavior of a Buddha.

President Ikeda writes:

Therefore, when we believe in the Gohonzon as the embodiment of that Law, chant the Mystic Law and take action, at that moment we are experiencing eternity. It is then that the eternally pure and boundless life force that is “something that was not worked for, that was not improved upon, but that exists just as it always has” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 141) wells forth. We enjoy complete freedom in both the present and the future. Nichiren Buddhism is the Buddhism of hope.

The Lotus Sutra is precious because in its depths is the Gohonzon. If we forget this one point, all our efforts will amount to nothing . . .

No matter how bad our present circumstances might be, even if it seems we are fighting a losing battle, we must stand up determined not to be defeated and from there show actual proof of the limitless potential of the Mystic Law. Is this not the true purpose of faith?

Without putting our whole lives into creating something from nothing, we cannot know genuine faith. The intense challenge to create value—to change loss into gain, bad into good, and baseness into beauty—this is the spirit of Soka. This is faith . . .

In the entire world, the SGI is the only group working to spread the Mystic Law throughout the world. We must steadfastly protect this noble organization. The SGI is the light of hope for humankind. (WLS-6, 244–46)

“Now, more than ever.”

Mr. Morinaka said that the SGI embodies the spirit of faith to advance “today more than yesterday” and “tomorrow more than today.”

“Those who establish this kind of faith can experience the ultimate secret of life—that is, they can change any karma into their mission and always advance with hope,” he said.

What’s more, the treasures of the heart that we accumulate in the process are eternal. “This is the greatness of the faith upheld in the SGI,” he said. “When we live based on the oneness of mentor and disciple, our slogan is: ‘Now, more than ever.’ This is our spirit.”

To be continued in an upcoming issue.

(pp. 6–7)